In the investing world it would seem that we're all the same -- what matters is the return, and stocks and mutual funds don't care who you are. But many experts believe that at least when it comes to investing money, men and women are different.

Brokerage houses such as Merrill Lynch and PaineWebber are banking on it, and they've created huge marketing campaigns and corporate divisions to cater to women and their financial needs. Books are being published that specifically address women, and financial experts are beginning to take note. All are trying to find, define and service an investor they believe is very different from the one traditionally involved in the market.

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Merrill Lynch's 5-year-old women-focused marketing team does everything from running ads in Working Mother magazine to offering educational seminars. On Monday, the company launches a new section of its Web site, strictly dedicated to the financial needs of women .

Ernst & Young takes a more subtle approach, focusing its efforts on the recently published Ernst & Young's Financial Planning for Women, and promoting a woman to be national director of personal financial consulting.

And as further evidence of the trend in accommodating women in the investment world, Bloomberg and the Women.com site have even created the Bloomberg/Women.com 30, the first stock index to cover publicly traded companies run by women (although exactly what it measures is unclear).

"You can't sell sex to women like you can to men," says Barbara Steinmetz, CFP, president of Steinmetz Financial Planning in Burlingame, Calif., who relies strictly on client referrals. "And it's not about making things pink either."

That's because women and men approach investing differently, experts say. "Women need to know much more information than men before they take action," according to Paula Kennedy, a senior manager in Ernst & Young's personal financial counseling group in Minneapolis and co-author of Ernst & Young's Financial Planning for Women. That means compiling research, attending educational seminars and asking questions before taking on any risk.

Kennedy gives an extreme example: One day she had two clients -- a man and a woman, demographically very similar -- coming in an hour apart. The guy walked in and handed her an investment opportunity brochure and said that "his buddies were investing in this and he wanted in." She pointed out that the printing in the brochure was upside down, but apparently he didn't think that was any reflection on the quality of the company.

Her female client showed up an hour later and was very hesitant about putting any money in the market at all.

"Women tend to be slower to make financial moves," says Steinmetz. But "they are much more committed once they make them."

Evidence backs her up. Women turn over their portfolios approximately 53% annually, while men turn their portfolios over approximately 77% annually according to a September 1999 study titled Boys will be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence and Common Stock Investment, by Brad Barber and Terrance Odean of the fund company Undiscovered Managers. The study found that women earn 1.4% more than men on an annual risk-adjusted basis.

But this approach, while great for long-term financial goals, doesn't play to current conditions in the market, which are marked by fast breaks, high-wire acts and breathtaking opportunities for profits.

"So they might miss the first time. But once they've learned, they'll be sure to get in the next time," notes Steinmetz.

And many more are getting in. Thanks to an increase in the number of young women with high salaries, stock options and rich 401(k)s, 46% of all current investors are women, according to PaineWebber. Merrill Lynch's recent direct women-only marketing campaign resulted in more than $100 million of new assets to the firm.

And in a recent poll of women between 18 and 54 with investable assets of $100,000 or more, the company found that financial independence is the biggest reason women have taken control of their investments. What's more, more than two-thirds of those women maintain separate investment accounts from their spouses.

"I'm starting to see younger women 35 and under investing just as aggressively as men their age," says Kennedy.

So is this frenetic market, led by many female faces, forcing women to jump-start their thought processes? Is the so-called "feminine style" of investing changing? Let us know what you think on our message board.